Umrah is composed of four rites, namely: ihram, tawaf, sa’i between Al-Safa and Al-Marwa, and shaving the head or cutting the hair. These actions are also stipulated in Hajj.
Ihram & Miqat
Ihram is a spiritual state of worship. It is composed of two parts: (1) a specific dress code like the two white garments for men, and (2) a number of restrictions such as applying perfumes, cutting nails and physical intimacy between spouses.
The ihram can only begin after entering specific locations, which are known as miqat.
Once at the miqat, the pilgrim must enter ihram. He does so by changing his clothes and doing ghusl (a full-body-wash). Then the male pilgrim applies perfume to his head and beard.
Thereafter, the pilgrim puts on the ihram garments, faces the qiblah (direction of prayer) and enters the state of ihram by uttering the talbiyah of intention. In the case of Umrah, he says: Labbayk Allahumma bil-Umrah (Here I am, O Allah, for Umrah).
Two implications of the ihram and miqat on the pilgrim are:
1. An awareness of the boundaries set by Allah, The Master and King
After entering the miqat boundary and entering ihram some actions are forbidden, which otherwise would be permissible.
Some people may consider the prohibitions of ihram insignificant like not clipping nails, not cutting hair and not covering the head, however the consequence (of violating them) is huge, which is typically compensated for by offering a sacrificial animal.
Thus the ihram and miqat create awe and caution of the “lesser or smaller” sinful actions, and not just the major ones. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Beware of lesser sins, (the analogy is) like a people who camped in the bottom of a valley, and one man brought a stick, another man brought a second stick, and so on, until they managed to (ignite a fire and) bake their bread. There are sins (i.e. lesser/smaller sins) which, once (they accumulate) and a person is questioned about them, they lead to his doom.” Reported by Ahmad.
2. Entering the kingdom of Allah in submission
No pilgrim enters the Sacred Kingdom and House of Allah except in a state of istislam (surrendering and submitting to His Commands). The miqat and ihram epitomize this state. The miqat, for example, required the pilgrim to spend his wealth, leave the security and comfort of his family and home, give up his eating and living habits—and despite its many difficulties he surrendered to his King and Lord. And similarly, the ihram required the pilgrim to change his appearance and withhold from his urges—and again he obeyed in submission to Allah.
The pilgrim therefore acknowledges the Authority, Kingship and Majesty of Allah, and he understands that he is nought but a humbled guest in the Dominion of The King.
When saying the talbiyah, it is important that the pilgrim understands it and says it sincerely from his heart. This is because the talbiyah embodies the shahadah (testimony of faith) about which the Prophet said, “Whoever says La ilaha illallah sincerely from his heart will enter Paradise.” Reported by Muslim.
Men raise their voices when saying it and women recite it in such a manner that only those who are close to them can hear it.
During the pilgrimage, the muhrim (person in ihram) says the talbiyah a great deal, especially when circumstances and times change, such as when going up to a high place or going down to a low place, or when night or day begin.
The talbiyah is prescribed in Umrah from the moment one enters ihram until one engages in the next rite, which in this case is the tawaf. When he starts tawaf, he stops saying the talbiyah, and then resumes its chanting after completing the rite. He goes on in this state until he begins the next rite. Like this, he continues until the end of the pilgrimage.
After entering miqat & ihram, the pilgrim heads for Al-Masjid Al-Haram and enters the mosque with his right foot first, saying the invocation for entering the masjid. He then moves in the direction of the Black Stone in order to begin tawaf while in a state of wudu (ritual ablution). He starts the tawaf by touching the Black Stone with his right hand and kissing it; if he cannot kiss it then he touches it with his hand and kisses that hand; if he cannot touch it with his hand then he faces the Black Stone and points to it with his hand and says, “Allahu Akbar.”
Then he moves towards the right, with the Kabah on his left, and when he reaches the Yemeni Corner (the third corner after the Black Stone) he touches it. If he can not touch it then he moves on and does not crowd around it. Between the Yemeni Corner and the Black Stone, he says, “Rabbana atina fid-dunya hasanah, wa fil-akhirati-hasanah, wa qina ‘aazaban-nar (Our Lord! Give us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the torment of the Fire).” Reported by Abu Dawud.
Every time he passes the Black Stone, he faces it and says, “Allahu Akbar.” And in the rest of his tawaf, he recites whatever he likes of dhikr, du’a ‘and Qur’an, because tawaf around the Kabah is legislated for the remembrance of Allah, “Verily, tawaf around the House, going between Al-Safa and Al-Marwa, and stoning the pillars have only been prescribed in order to establish the Remembrance of Allah.” Reported by Abu Dawud.
The pilgrim―a guest and humble subject of his Host, The King of kings―displays appreciation to his Host by applauding Him praises and thanks. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was asked (in mursal hadith), “Which of the people who frequent the masjid are best?” He replied, “Those who make the most dhikr of Allah.” He was asked again, “Which of those who attend a funeral are best?” He replied, “Those who make the most dhikr of Allah.” He was asked again, “Which of those who make jihad are best?” He replied, “Those who make the most dhikr of Allah.” He was asked again, “Which of those who make Hajj are best?” He replied, “Those who make the most dhikr of Allah.” He was asked one last time, “Which of those who visit the ill are best?” He replied, “Those who make the most dhikr of Allah.” Abu Bakr remarked , “Those who engage in dhikr have made off with all good.”
Ibn al-Qayyim commented, “The best people who do any deed are those who remember and mention Allah most whilst performing it. Hence, the best of those who make Hajj are those who engage most in the dhikr of Allah; and the same applies to other deeds.”
Subsequently, the pilgrim witnesses a massive assembly of believers, all wearing one mode of attire, bearing a single appearance, encircling the House of their King; glorifying, praising, and extolling Him; invoking their Most Generous Master, holding private counsel with Him, beseeching Him, and humbly asking of Him. The best of them is the one who remembers Allah most.
Two actions are expected of male pilgrims during tawaf:
1. Uncovering the right shoulder (idtiba’) from the beginning of tawaf until the end.
This is done by placing the middle of the upper garment (rida’) beneath the right armpit, and the ends of the rida’ over the left shoulder. When he completes the tawaf, he returns his upper garment back as it was before tawaf because the time for wearing it with one shoulder uncovered is only in tawaf.
2. Performing raml in the first three circuits.
Raml means walking quickly with short steps. In the last four circuits, there is no raml, the pilgrim walks at normal pace.
The raml exhibits strength of mind, body and will in the pilgrim. Historically, when Muslims entered the Haram to make tawaf many of the polytheists attempted to mock them, commenting that they are unable to circle the K’abah because of the long journey and fever of Al-Madinah. Thus to exhibit the strength of the believer, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam commanded the Companions to do raml.
The Prophet stated elsewhere, “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, and in both there is good.” Reported by Muslim.
The tawaf is performed with this spirit. The pilgrim does it with strength, not weakness. He pushes himself and remains in control. He is bound to find others during tawaf stepping on his toes, pushing into him, even wheelchairs crashing into him―annoying and angering him. In those moments, he exhibits strength, restraint and patience―embodying the spirit of the raml.
When the pilgrim completes seven circuits, he covers his right shoulder and then walks to the Station of Ibrahim, and recites the words, “And take the Station of Ibrahim as a place of prayer.” [2:125]
There, he prays two units behind the Station: Al-Fatihah and Al-Kafirun in the first unit and Al-Fatihah and Al-Ikhlas in the second. After the two units of prayer, he moves towards the Black Stone to touch it; if he cannot do that then he proceeds to the sa’i.
Before proceeding to the sa’i area, it is customary for the pilgrim to drink Zamzam water and pour some of it on his head. The pilgrim beseeches his King at this moment, knowing full well that He will answer because the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “The water of Zamzam is for whatever it is drunk for.” Reported by Ibn Majah.
Abu Dharr once camped near the Kabah and its coverings for forty days and forty nights with no food or drink other than Zamzam. When asked by the Prophet as to how he nourished himself, he answered, “I have had nothing but Zamzam water, and I have gained weight such that I have folds of fat on my stomach. I do not feel any of the tiredness or weakness of hunger.” The Prophet responded, “Verily, Zamzam is blessed; it is food that nourishes,” and other narrations include, “and a healing for sickness.” Reported by Muslim.
Then the pilgrim walks to the mas’a (place for sa’i), and when he comes near to al-Safa he recites in Arabic, “Verily, Al-Safa and Al-Marwa (two mountains in Makkah) are of the Symbols of Allah.” [2:158] And then he says, “We start with that with which Allāh started with.”
He climbs al-Safa until he sees the Kabah, he faces it, raises his hands and praises Allah as the Prophet did, and makes du’a.
The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam would say, “There is no deity but Allah alone, with no partner; His is the Dominion, all praise is due to Him, and He is able over all things. There is no deity but Allah alone; he fulfilled His promise, granted victory to His slave, and defeated the confederates alone.” Reported by Muslim. The pilgrim says this once and then makes du’a, then recites it again and makes du’a, and recites it a third time without du’a. He then comes down and moves towards al-Marwa.
The path between al-Safa and al-Marwa has a green marker. When the pilgrim reaches the marker he runs as quickly as he can without disturbing other pilgrims because the Prophet said, “The river bed is not crossed except with vigour.” Reported by Ibn Majah.
The river bed is the area between the two green markers that stand there now. It was a dried river bed in the time of the Prophet.
When he reaches the second green marker he walks normally until he reaches al-Marwa. He climbs up it and turns to face the qiblah, raising his hands, saying what he said at al-Safa.
Then he comes down from al-Marwa and heads for al-Safa, walking in the place of walking and running in the place of running. When he reaches al-Safa, he does what he did the first time, and the same when he goes back to al-Marwa. He does this until he completes seven circuits (al-Safa to al-Marwa is one circuit and al-Marwa to al-Safa is another circuit). During this sa’i, the pilgrim can say whatever he likes of dhikr, du’a and Qur’an.
The sa’i reflects how Allah aids and supports his loyal subjects. The pilgrim remembers Hajar, that amazing woman, when she was surrounded by despair from all sides, and when she answered with the firmness of one who expects the best of her Lord and Guardian, with more firmness than a mountain, “Allah will take care of us. He will not neglect us.” She was given after pain, relief and happiness; after weakness, strength and authority; after anonymity, renown and distinction.
Abu Muhammad said, “A verse in the Book of Allah caused me to stop and reflect for quite some time, and it deserves for me to stop at it, ‘And it is He who sends down the rain after they have despaired, and spreads wide His Mercy. And He is Al-Waliy, Al-Hamid (The Guardian, The Praiseworthy). [42:28]
So, in my mind, I imagined how the people would panic over their families, livestock, and land due to the severe drought occurring in the midst of the harsh, scorching heat. They hoped in Allah and turned to Him in supplication until they had no hope left and were sure that they would perish.
Suddenly, the rain surprises them as it falls freely and vastly from the sky into the valleys of the Earth as a sign of Allah’s mercy, so that the land would come back to live along with those lives and souls after they had lost all hope!
And how beautiful is it that the verse is capped with the Names Al-Waliy (The Guardian) Al-Hamid (The Praiseworthy) as He is the sole Guardian of His slaves, who is sufficient for them and has Himself taken on their affairs at all times! Because of this He alone is deserving of praise at all times.
Every guardian other than Him forgets, makes mistakes, falls short, or is heedless. As for Al-Waliy Al-Hamid, my Lord, He does not forget nor make mistakes. Glory be to Him. He does not become tired nor does He sleep. He is the Living, the Self-Sustaining. Therefore, everyone who takes Him as a guardian will find Him—without a doubt—the best Guardian and Assister. He spreads His mercy to His allies all the time and everywhere even in the most uncomfortable of places and the most pressing of times…
And I go back in my memory to the first verse and I remember how Allah had spread His Mercy to His slaves living in vast land by sending down rain after they had lost all hope, and how He descended His mercy upon the youths in the harsh, tiny, dark cave, turning it into a vast space. So I glorify and venerate my Guardian.
Indeed, this is how Al-Waliy Al-Hamid deals with His allies who possess the utmost confidence and best expectations of Him, harbour no negative thoughts of Him, believe in His promises and guarantees, and calm their hearts from panicking such that they are tranquil and trusting in Him.
Allah said, “I am as my slave expects Me to be and I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself. And if he remembers Me in a group, I make mention of him in a group better than it. And if he comes near to Me by a hand span, I come near to him by an arm span. And if he comes near to Me by an arm span, I come near to him by the span of an outstretched arm. If he comes to Me walking, I come to him running.” Reported by Muslim.
Reflect on how Merciful and Just our Guardian is, “I am as My slave expects Me to be.” So whoever expects something bad from his Guardian or that he will abandon him, he will be stricken with anxiety and abandonment as a punishment from Allah because of His justice. And whoever expects the best from his Guardian and knows that He is the best guardian and helper, and glorifies Him above being like any of the other guardians who abandon their followers and ignore or misguide them—each of them is a terrible guardian and helper… Whoever sees Allah, the Guardian, as above these deficiencies and venerates Him and expects the best from Him and relies on Him as He ought to be relied on, He will in such a case be sufficient for that person.
In accordance with how good your expectations and hope in Allah are and how truthful your reliance and trust are in Him, Allah will not waste your hopes in the least, as He does not betray the hopes of those who hope, and does not cause any effort to go to waste.”
Shaving the head or cutting the hair
When the pilgrim completes seven circuits of sa’i, he shaves his head if he is a man, or cuts some of his hair. If he decides to shave his head then he shaves his entire head, and if he decides to cut his hair then he cuts from all over his head. Shaving is better than cutting because the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam supplicated three times for those who shaved their heads and once for those who cut their hair. Reported by Muslim.
Female pilgrims should cut the length of a fingertip from their hair ends.
Shaving the head historically demonstrated humility and meekness. This is especially true for pre-Islamic Arab culture. Hence, when the Arabs sought to humiliate their prisoners before freeing them, they would shave their heads.
Shaving the head is an act of humility and submission, which is why it is one of the acts that complete Hajj and Umrah, for it means putting one’s forelock in the Hand of his Master and King, in submission to His Authority and Greatness, and humbling oneself before His Glory. It is one of the most eloquent forms of submission―similar to the sajdah (prostration).
This is why shaving has a greater virtue than shortening. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “O Allah! Forgive those who shave their heads.” The people asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what about those who shorten their hair?” He said, “O Allah! Forgive those who shave their heads.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, what about those who shorten their hair?” He said, “O Allah! Forgive those who shave their heads.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, what about those who shorten their hair?” He said, “And those who shorten their hair.” Reported by Al-Bukhari.
The Umrah is now complete. So, Umrah consists of ihram, tawaf, sa’i and shaving the head or cutting the hair.
By Allah, the Umrah is replete with tremendous, deeply moving lessons and benefits. We have only mentioned a few. The Umrah gathers Allah’s attributes of Authority and Power, Dominion and Majesty—the pilgrim’s heart is filled with awe of Al-Wahid Al-Qahhar. It is truly a journey to The One True King to whom belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and in Whose dominion is the human heart which is a kingdom unto itself.